Indian cuisine comprises a wide variety of regional and traditional cuisines native to the Indian subcontinent. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate, culture, ethnic groups, and occupations, these cuisines vary substantially from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Indian food is also heavily influenced by religious, in particular Hindu, and cultural choices and traditions. Also, Middle Eastern and Central Asian influences have occurred on North Indian cuisine from the years of Mughal rule. Indian cuisine is still evolving, as a result of the nation’s cultural interactions with other societies.
Historical incidents such as foreign invasions, trade relations, and colonialism have played a role in introducing certain foods to the country. For instance, potato, a staple of the diet in some regions of India, was brought to India by the Portuguese, who also introduced chillies and breadfruit. Indian cuisine has shaped the history of international relations; the spice trade between India and Europe was the primary catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery. Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia. Indian cuisine has influenced other cuisines across the world, especially those from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the British Isles, Fiji, and the Caribbean.
Staple foods of Indian cuisine include pearl millet (bājra), rice, whole-wheat flour (aṭṭa), and a variety of lentils, such as masoor (most often red lentils), toor (pigeon peas), urad (black gram), and moong (mung beans). Lentils may be used whole, dehusked—for example, dhuli moong or dhuli urad—or split. Split lentils, or dal, are used extensively. Some pulses, such as channa or cholae (chickpeas), rajma (kidney beans), and lobiya (black-eyed peas) are very common, especially in the northern regions. Channa and moong are also processed into flour (besan).
Many Indian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil, but peanut oil is popular in northern and western India, mustard oil in eastern India, and coconut oil along the western coast, especially
in Kerala. Gingelly (sesame) oil is common in the south since it imparts a fragrant, nutty aroma. In recent decades, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and soybean oils have become popular across India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is another popular cooking medium. Butter-based ghee, or deshi ghee, is used frequently, though less than in the past. Many types of meat are used for Indian cooking, but chicken and mutton tend to be the most commonly consumed meats. Fish and beef consumption are prevalent in some parts of India, but they are not widely consumed except for coastal areas, as well as the north east.
Lentils are a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine.
The most important and frequently used spices and flavorings in Indian cuisine are whole or powdered chilli pepper (mirch, introduced by the Portuguese from Mexico in the 16th century), black mustard seed (sarso), cardamom (elaichi), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrak), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lasoon). One popular spice mix is garam masala, a powder that typically includes five or more dried spices, especially cardamom, cinnamon (dalchini), and clove (laung). Each culinary region has a distinctive garam masala blend—individual chefs may also have their own. Goda masala is a comparable, though sweet, spice mix popular in Maharashtra. Some leaves commonly used for flavouring include bay leaves (tejpat), coriander leaves, fenugreek leaves, and mint leaves. The use of curry leaves and roots for flavouring is typical of Gujarati and South Indian cuisine. Sweet dishes are often seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences.